Donald Trump is dogged by insecurity over his loss of the popular vote in the US election and a persistent frustration that the legitimacy of his presidency is being challenged by Democrats and the media, aides and associates say.
The president’s fixation has been a drag on the momentum of his opening days in office, with his exaggerations about inauguration crowds and false assertions about illegal balloting intruding on advisers’ plans to launch his presidency with a flurry of actions on the economy.
His spokesman Sean Spicer has twice stepped into the fray himself, including on Tuesday, when he commented on Mr Trump’s false claim that he lost the popular vote because 3-5 million people living in the US illegally cast ballots.
“He believes what he believes based on the information he was provided,” said Mr Spicer, who gave no evidence to back up the president’s statements.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have finalised their election results with no reports of the kind of widespread fraud alleged by Mr Trump.
If the president’s claim were true it would mark the most significant election fraud in US history – and ironically, would raise the same questions about Mr Trump’s legitimacy that he is trying to avoid.
Yet Mr Spicer repeatedly sidestepped questions about whether the Trump administration would investigate the allegations made by the president.
“Anything is possible,” he said.
Some Trump allies say the property billionaire is justified in using his platform to defend his standing.
They point to Georgia Democratic congressman John Lewis’ pre-inauguration statement that he did not see Mr Trump as a legitimate president, as well as US intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia meddled in the election in order to help him win.
“Segments of his own government keep driving this narrative,” said Roger Stone, a long-time confidant. “I don’t think it hurts to point it out.”
Key advisers in Mr Trump’s circle concede the focus on crowd claims and alleged voter fraud have been a distraction.
After relishing in Friday’s inaugural festivities, the new president grew increasingly upset the next day by what he felt was “biased” media coverage of women’s marches across the world protesting at his election, according to a person familiar with his thinking.
He was particularly enraged with CNN, which he thought was “gloating” by continually running photos of the women’s march alongside the smaller crowds that attended his inauguration the day before, according to the source, one of several White House aides and associates who spoke anonymously.
Mr Trump has had a tumultuous relationship with the press, frequently calling the media dishonest and insulting individual reporters by name at his rallies and on Twitter.
Two people close to the president said he expected his coverage to turn more favourable once he took office – instead, he has told people he believes it has got worse.
The bad press over the weekend has not allowed Mr Trump to “enjoy” the White House as he feels he deserves, according to one person who has spoken with him and the result has been a full display of his propensity for exaggeration and more.
During an appearance at the CIA Saturday, he wrongly said the inaugural crowds gathered on the National Mall stretched to the Washington Monument, despite clear photographic evidence to the contrary.
And during a reception with politicians from both parties on Monday night, he repeated his false assertion that millions of illegal immigrants provided Hillary Clinton’s margin in the popular vote.
It’s not the first time that Mr Trump, who is known to be both thin-skinned and dedicated to polishing his public image, has become fixated on details that challenge his success.
When journalist Timothy O’Brien wrote in a 2005 book that Mr Trump was a multi-millionaire, not a billionaire, Mr Trump sued him for €5bn.
The case was dismissed but Mr Trump appealed, accusing the journalist of libel. He lost that, too.
Mr Spicer hinted at Mr Trump’s feelings during his maiden press briefing on Monday.
“There is this constant theme to undercut the enormous support that he has,” Mr Spicer said. “And I think that it’s just unbelievably frustrating when you’re continually told it’s not big enough, it’s not good enough, you can’t win.”
Less than one week into the administration, Mr Spicer has twice been sent to the White House briefing room to reiterate his boss’ message.
Mr Trump is said to have approved of Mr Spicer’s angry tirade against the media on Saturday, which included false statements about the inaugural crowds.
But the president, who is intensely focused on optics, was said to be critical of Mr Spicer’s on-camera image.
By Monday, Mr Spicer was donning a darker suit and his lectern in the briefing room had been lowered.
Underscoring Mr Trump’s habit of stoking rivalries among his staff, he has told people he wants his counsellor Kellyanne Conway to be on television more – but aides are trying to get the cable news consumer-in-chief to be near a television less often, according to one person who has spoken with him.
He cheered Ms Conway’s use of the phrase “alternative facts” in a recent interview as a way to counteract what he believes is the media’s inherent bias.